Reports Mar 12, 2018 | 10:21 AMby Colin McGourty

Berlin Candidates 2: Grischuk heaps misery on So

“Losing is always very inspiring,” said Alexander Grischuk after he followed his defeat to Vladimir Kramnik with a crushing win over Wesley So. For the second day in a row Wesley opened up the position with the black pieces and lived to regret it, with his dreams of a World Championship match against Magnus Carlsen looking in tatters. The other three games were drawn, with Mamedyarov-Aronian relatively quiet, Ding Liren-Caruana a fierce tactical battle and Kramnik-Karjakin a rare case of Vladimir Kramnik taking on the notorious Berlin Endgame he’d done so much to promote.

Grischuk got back on track with a fine win over So | photo: Vladimir Barsky, Russian Chess Federation

You can replay all the games from Berlin using the selector below – click a result to open that game with computer analysis, or hover over a player’s name to see all his results and pairings:

Replay the six hours of live commentary on Round 2 from Jan Gustafsson and Sopiko Guramishvili:

Grischuk 1-0 So: If there is no mate I just quit chess!

Alexander Grischuk dominated at the board and in the post-game press conference on Sunday, as he made immediate amends for his first-round loss to Vladimir Kramnik. 

It was the kind of game after which even Grischuk might be tempted to smile :) | photo: Vladimir Barsky, Russian Chess Federation

He was greatly helped by his opponent, though, with Wesley commenting:

Before the tournament everyone told me that people would be well-prepared here, that there’d be a lot of nervous tension. I guess I just started in really bad form.

In the first game against Caruana the 15…e5 pawn break was provocative but probably the best move in the position. In Round 2 against Grischuk the same couldn’t be said about the choice So made on move 12, after a move earlier having to move his rook back from e8 to f8 to defend f7:


I was very surprised at 12…d5. I thought ok, Black just lost tempi and then plays d5, it should be really bad…

The good news for So was that Grischuk couldn’t find any immediate knockout blow, while he burned up a lot of time trying. Nevertheless, Wesley seemed to have a death wish as he soon again moved the f8-rook away from the defence of the f7-pawn (it was perhaps a case of the wrong rook going to e8), with 19.Rc1! exploiting that weakness:

Grischuk pointed out that 19…Nxd4 runs into 20.Bxf7+! and a queen-winning fork on e5. The game was essentially over in a few moves: 19…Nxe4 20.Rxe4 Bf6 21.Rg4! Kh8 22.Rc5!

A rook lift as beautiful as it is powerful. After 22…Nxd4 23.Nxd4 Bxd4 White can choose between the crushing 24.Bxh6 or 24.Bc3. The computer suggests 22…Ne7! gives Black some hopes of survival, but after 22…Rad8 23.Qc1! it was game over. As Grischuk put it:

Here I didn’t even really calculate. I just said to myself: I have all the pieces in the attack and Black defends with one bishop. If there is no mate I just quit chess! I cannot believe there can be a defence for Black.

Wesley found a desperate defence to avoid mate, but Black was soon down a piece for a pawn, and there were only two reasons for continuing the game: 1) he wanted to delay conceding a defeat that was so devastating for his tournament chances, and 2) Grischuk was in time trouble. It made no difference, though, since Grischuk won in 44 moves. Spanish GM Pepe Cuenca takes us through the game:

Grischuk was also in devastating form in the post-game press conference.

When Alexander was asked about nervousness at the end, he went on to explain:

I was so winning! You just don’t want to spoil it, but it has nothing to do with the nervous system… It’s bad to be calm. It’s a usual question, were you nervous? And when people ask this they’re sort of implying that being nervous is a bad thing, and I think this is not the case at all! It’s actually very bad to not be nervous. It’s not normal if you have an important game, time trouble and you are not nervous. It means there is something wrong with you. Of course if you just shake uncontrollably it’s bad, but it’s also very bad to not be nervous. For example, yesterday I was not nervous at all!

The memorable lines just kept flowing. When asked if he’d taken risks at the end by attacking the black king in time trouble, “But actually if you checkmate then you don’t have to make it to move 40!” When an audience member described it as the “most memorable attacking game” he’d seen at the Candidates: “Thank you that it’s the most exciting game you saw in the Candidates, but it probably means you didn’t see too many games!”

When it was suggested, somewhat bizarrely, that Grischuk’s rook lifts were in imitation of Steinitz-Bardeleben, Hastings 1895, Grischuk instead came up with another game to demonstrate that nice ideas don’t always work out!

There was a famous game of I think Keres-Smyslov in the 1953 Candidates. White put rooks on h3, h5, took h7... and lost!

Keres' rook sacrifice was brilliant (after 19…gxh5 White is better!), but after 19…dxc4!! 20.Rxh7 c3! Smyslov was winning. You can replay the game with computer analysis here, and read more about this game, before which it seems Keres was under instructions not to play for a win, in Joosep Grents’ article.   

That wasn’t quite all for the press conference for Grischuk, who talked about inspiration:

For example, losing is always very inspiring! I’m normally too kind of a person and should get angry, somehow.

Mamedyarov ½-½ Aronian: Peace in the Caucasus

An encounter neither player ever wants to lose | photo: Vladimir Barsky, Russian Chess Federation

Tensions are always high when Azerbaijan players take on Armenians, but their no. 1 chess representatives have a good relationship, and it helped in Round 2 that no blood was spilt on the board. In the 4.Qc2 Nimzo-Indian Mamedyarov got off the beaten track with 10.g3 and then the “mouse-slip fianchetto” 11.Bh3, which got Levon thinking:

Mamedyarov explained his point was to stop Black from playing e5, while Aronian’s 11…b6 immediately put him out of book. What followed was a sharp skirmish, with White looking to have a strong grip on the queenside until 16…Bc4! shut down most of the fun. It was curious that for a second day in a row Levon had just about trapped his opponent’s queen:

Of course here 19.Qxa5 was played, with Aronian soon forcing perpetual check by attacking the queen with his rooks.

Again the players were in form in the post-game press conference. On motivation:

Aronian: When you’re trailing in a tournament it’s already a very good motivation. Generally you need motivation when you play well. When you don’t play well it already motivates you automatically.

Mamedyarov: My motivation is every time I try to smile and a good mood is very important!

On reacting to making mistakes during a game:

Mamedyarov: If it’s a big mistake you have to immediately resign. There’s no chance. If it’s a mistake and you have some chance, it’s better to ask this question to Karjakin, I think! Don’t ask how I play…  For me it is not easy to say because I am not special in this big mistake – I play normally bad!

Aronian: Generally when you make big blunders it’s kind of a medicine because it wakes you up, because at some moment we all think that we’re very clever and we’re invincible and then you play a very bad game and you understand that there is a lot of improvement, a lot of areas to work on. Generally the stronger the player is the less he gets affected by losses, so I think if any of us here were affected and would play terribly after really big mistakes we wouldn’t be here. We’re all, I wouldn’t say immune, but well-prepared to accept our mistakes and continue fighting.

Levon noted that most things had been improved in the venue, though, “I still hope we’ll get the luxury of a 2nd bathroom”. Shak chimed in to say that finding the toilet always busy is “a big problem in zeitnot”!

Ding Liren ½-½ Caruana: Tactics!

A fierce battle between Ding Liren and Fabiano Caruana | photo: Vladimir Barsky, Russian Chess Federation

Ding Liren and Fabiano Caruana are in some ways very similar chess players. Neither exactly exudes confidence at the board and they might seem likely to crumble under pressure, but in fact both keep calculating coolly when the going gets tough, and you won’t find many players better able to navigate complex positions. 

In Round 2, though, their game became so complicated that neither could really fathom what was going on. Needless to say, we can only give a brief taster here as well.

Ding Liren opened with the Catalan, with Caruana going for the rare 7…b6, a move that could be called the legacy of Ivan Bukavshin, who introduced the move into top-level chess in the 2015 Russian Championship, before tragically dying at the age of only 20 just a few months later. Caruana said he couldn’t remember exactly what his notes said, but soon had a good position (he criticised Liren’s 16.Bf4) and then took a deep think before setting the board on fire:

18…Nf3+ came after a mammoth 48 minutes (Ding had expected 18…Nxe2+), but, as so often happens, it turned out Fabiano had missed something on the second move of the tree of variations! 19.exf3 d4 20.f4! was an unpleasant surprise, since he assumed it was impossible due to 20…Bf3 21.Bxd4 Qf5, mating, only to realise that 22.Nd5!! turns the tables. 

22…Qh3 can simply be met by 23.Ne3, though 23.Nxe7+! Kh8 24.Bxg7+! Kxg7 25.Nf5+ is a lot more fun. After 22...Qxd5 23.Bc3 Bxd1 24.Rxd1 White is comfortably better.

Unsurprisingly, the time used came back to haunt Caruana, but he held things together in time trouble and ultimately the draw that followed was a fair result. You can watch the players try to make sense of it all:

Kramnik ½-½ Karjakin: The Berlin Wall still stands

PhosAgro CEO Andrey Guryev made the first move in the all-Russian clash | photo: Vladimir Barsky, Russian Chess Federation

Vladimir Kramnik took credit at the opening press conference for doing more than anyone else to popularise the city of Berlin in the chess world, but in Round 2 he decided to try and beat the opening he famously used to hold off Garry Kasparov in the 2000 World Championship match. He said after the game, “I usually play it with Black, and it’s such a pleasure to look at this position from the white side!”

Kramnik didn’t come unprepared, of course, with his 15.a3 seemingly a novelty that soon had Karjakin in deep thought, though the younger Russian commented, “probably I had some very deep knowledge, but I didn’t remember it”. Kramnik, meanwhile, revealed he’d rechecked his notes an hour before the game started, but there was nothing clear about the play that followed. Kramnik sacrificed a pawn for a powerful positional grip, but could never find a perfect moment for decisive action:

The trademark Berlin break 42.e6 followed, but after 42…fxe6 43.g5 Rh8 44.Rxe6 Rf8! the game fizzled out into an opposite-coloured bishops draw, though not before Karjakin, the bane of the commentators’ lives, had again played the longest game of the day.

It might seem to be confirmation that the Berlin Wall can't be toppled...

...but it’s (re-)inventor wasn’t so convinced, telling Evgeny Surov of Chess-News:

Black does have reserves of solidity, but not as great as everyone imagines. In our game Black was in great danger, and I thought that I should find some kind of breakthrough, but I couldn’t find it in a good version. I don’t know if it was there or not. The main thing is that these endings are very badly evaluated by the computer – it always says equality, but often there’s nothing even close to that. In this case as well – there was no equality, and Black held with great difficulty.

That meant that the standings were largely unchanged, apart from Wesley So now finding himself in sole last place, while Grischuk is back at 50%:

Round 3 on Monday is the last round before the first rest day, and brings us the classic Aronian-Kramnik, though Karjakin-Grischuk, Caruana-Mamedyarov and So-Ding Liren have potential as well. Will Wesley go all-out for a first win now that he has the white pieces against another debutant, or will it be the Soviet approach of stopping the bleeding first?

In any case, it’s sure to be unmissable, if only because Peter Svidler has now finished his Bundesliga duties…

…and will be commentating with Jan all the way to the end of the tournament. Watch live here on chess24!

See also:

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